More on Cajun and Zydeco Music

In the 1750s, French-speaking Acadians were expelled by the British from Canada's maritime provinces and migrated to Louisiana. The Arcadians brought with them music that had its origins in France. These songs could be heard at family gatherings or special occasions without accompaniment, though the fiddle often supplied music for dancing. The accordion was added in the 1920s.

Creoles, the African American descendants of slaves, were developing their own music, and the music of the two cultures influenced one another. Like the Cajuns, the Creoles had house dances, clearing out all the furniture and bringing in musicians who would play until early in the morning. Washboards played with spoons or bottle openers and triangles provided rhythm.

And, although some refer to Cajun as the domain of white descendants of the Canadian exiles and Zydeco as that of French-speaking black Creoles, it was an African-American accordionist, Amedee Ardoin, who highly influenced the sound we recognize today as Cajun music. 

There was little difference between Cajun and zydeco until the end of World War II, when the outside world began to influence the music. Creole music began to lean towards the popular black music of the time (Jazz, Swing and early R&B) and Cajun music adopted Country Western sounds.

Creoles started using the piano accordion, not just the old Cajun diatonic accordion, for the versatility it lent. Cajuns incorporated country instruments like the steel guitar. With amplification technology changing, the fiddle could once again be heard in a noisy dancehall, and stepped back up to its righteous place as a leading instrument in many bands. Creoles, however, often dropped the fiddle from the band altogether. In the 1950s rock 'n' roll emerged, further influencing the style of music.

Nowadays, many of the most popular Cajun and Zydeco artists are actually coming back to a sound more influenced by traditional French Music. Bands frequently intermingle, sharing songs, instruments and sounds. The genres of music are still distinctly different... it's just that now these differences are being embraced by both the musicians and the fans of the music. For more, click here. Meanwhile, see Bartman's chart below:

Comparing Cajun and Zydeco Music

 

Cajun

Zydeco

People

White Cajuns

Black Creoles

Instruments

Accordion, fiddle(s), rhythm guitar, bass, drums, triangle ('tit fer)

Accordion, lead electric guitar, bass, drums, rub board (frattoir), maybe keyboard, saxophone

Accordion

single-row, dry tuned

2 or 3-row,  or piano accordion

Rhythm

two-Step  - dile, croco-dile,.

waltz - 3-1-(2)- 3-1-(2)- 3-1-(2)

Heavy backbeat, more syncopation, start measure with a rest

Tunes/songs

waltzes, two-steps, few blues, boogies and slow fours

lots of  blues, rocking two-steps, few waltzes

Vocal Style

high & lonesome or 'stretched'

minimal lyrics, repetitious

Language

Cajun French, Some English

Frequently English,  Creole French

Dance

waltz, two-step, jitterbug, jig. Open and closed position. Travelling dance

Zydeco, waltzes & blues  in  modified ballroom position.  Tends to be 'spot' dance

Musical Style

Clearly defined

Loosely defined

 Originally compiled by Bob Stone, Ethnomusicologist. Modified by Bart Ruark, 7/20/03.